TOWN OF BLAND, REVISTED
Articles by Marc Simmons
story I wrote not long ago about the New Mexico ghost town of Bland,
located in the Jemez Mountains west of Santa Fe, brought a flurry
of letters from interested readers. Some wanted to know more about
the place, while others shared new information with me. So let me
tell you more about Bland now.
Initially I neglected
to say how Bland got its name. It began as a mining camp in 1893,
first grandly called Eagle City. Within two years the growing community
had been renamed Bland, either for a local family of saloon keepers
by that name or for U.S. Sen. Richard P. Bland of Missouri, an advocate
of free silver coinage.
Mining of silver and
gold was the sole reason for the town's existence in the depths
of rugged Bland Canyon. Three kinds of opals were also found in
the vicinity, and prospectors also staked opal claims, but they
never seemed to pay off.
After my first story
was printed, lime specialist Abe Shaffer called my attention to
a notice in Santa Fe's daily paper, The New Mexican, on Sept. 21,
1900. The newspaper reported that freighters had arrived in Santa
Fe to begin hauling wagonloads of lime to the Albemarle mine near
The contract with local
parties, who were producing lime two miles northeast of the capital,
called for delivery of 7,500 tons a month. The paper said the lime
would be used at the mine's mill for cyaniding purposes.
Now, I was aware that
the cyanide process for recovering gold from its ore had been employed
in mills around Bland. But I had no idea what part lime might have
played in that operation.
To find out, I phoned
Homer Milford of the state Abandoned Mine Land Bureau. He explained
that adding lime to the cyanide solution made the recovery process
more efficient. It also inhibited the forming of toxic gas.
Later I discovered that
the Albemarle mine gave off noxious fumes that could be smelled
a mile away. Workers suffered from skin eruptions and lesions of
the lungs, so that the mill in the beginning was nicknamed the "Albemarle
Readers of my earlier
story may recall that I described the stagecoach trip between Santa
Fe and Bland made in 1900 by young Lillian Petherbridge. She was
going to join her husband, a new manager at one of the mines. As
I noted, she had been shocked to see dead birds and animals along
the stream as her coach ascended Bland Canyon. The stage driver
told her they had been poisoned by waste from one of the mills.
I assumed, of course,
that cyanide was the cause, but Homer Milford corrected me. He indicated
that in the 1890s a mill was built below Bland that tried to use
chlorine rather than cyanide in its processing. The operators were
incompetent and bungled the job. The mill closed and was abandoned.
Toxic waste escaped and polluted the stream.
Of the letters I received,
several of the writers referred to Bland after 1950, by which time
it had long since become a ghost town. William Keller, for instance,
tells me that back then, he and a friend climbed over a fence blocking
the entrance road. "We were met by a caretaker with a shotgun
aimed at us. After we convinced him we meant no harm he took us
to his cabin and gave us a lecture on Bland's history."
I happened to know that
the caretaker mentioned by Keller had been hired by Effie Jenks.
She was the head Harvey Girl at historic old La Fonda on the Santa
Fe Plaza when she purchased the entire Bland town site in the mid-1940s.
Once when I was dining
in La Fonda about 1965, someone pointed out Effie Jenks to me, explaining
that she was the owner of Bland. Sometime after that, Jenks retired
from waiting tables and moved into her ghost town.
In another letter, Joseph
Paull informed me that Effie Jenks had elected herself mayor of
Bland. She also published a newsletter for the birds and animals
in the canyon. Apparently the ghosts of yesteryear did not bother
her. The pleasantly eccentric Jenks died in 1983.
The old road to Bland
is practically impassable today, and the site remains private property,
closed to visitors. Doubtless that is why most guides to New Mexico
ghost towns fail to list it.
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Articles by Marc Simmons